/ 31 August 2016

Parktown Girls High amends hair policy following racism claims at Pretoria school

Pupils at Pretoria Girls High School protested against the school's code of conduct
Can policing hair relate to community and equality, or is it solely a function of colonial militarism?

Parktown High School for Girls has amended its hair policy, as the issue gains traction throughout schools in the country.

The school had been trying to address racism proactively, instead of reactively, it said in a post on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

It had been holding workshops about race, racism and diversity and was trying to ensure there was no subtle or structural racism.

“In the light of this, we made the decision yesterday to amend our school’s hair policy, making it possible for all girls to attend school feeling comfortable with what they consider to be their natural hair,” it said.

The school’s decision followed protests at Pretoria High School for Girls against racism and the rules about how black girls could wear their hair.

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi suspended the school’s code of conduct relating to hair and instituted an investigation into problems at the school.

Parktown High School for Girls’ code of conduct currently stipulates that no “bling” accessories may be worn. Hair which is obviously dyed is not allowed. Hair colour must be natural, with no obvious highlights. Braided hair must be in the natural hair colour. No wigs and no extreme hairstyles are allowed. Hair should be considered acceptable for school and has to look neat at all times. A committee will make decisions about what is considered extreme and unacceptable.

There were mixed reactions to the school’s announcement. Some people questioned the timing of the Facebook post.

Fatsani Banda said the school should allow former pupils to participate in the process of revising the code of conduct.

“Transformation also requires reconciliation and some of us were unfortunately traumatised as young, black teenage girls attending Parktown and there was a lack of concern for our grievances as growing minors who did experience structural racism.”

Nicola Sprawson said: “Staff workshops are a start, but I feel that it’s important that the girls can report matters without fear. Suggestion boxes? Weekly or monthly class or grade discussions? I just think schools should be working with all the students, why just the seniors?”

Khanyi Mev said the school was reacting to what was being said on social media.

“There is nothing proactive about this. In fact it is very reactive. You know the whiteness that still prevails in those corridors at Parkview. Plus judging from the tweets you were tagged and mentioned in during the #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh campaign, you knew it was a matter of time before the media was at your doorstep. This hair issue is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Mev.

Steffen Scholz hoped the workshops would lead to a reassessment of the entire code of conduct, to prevent such disputes from happening again.

“To the department of education and Panyaza Lesufi, this should be a push, to audit all schools for this kind of institutionalised discrimination. There is so much surfacing these days, swift action is needed,” she said. – News24